Season Review: Chase Elliott
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on December 11, 2016 | 10:45 A.M. EST
"I'm proud to have had the season we had." (Photo: Getty Images)
Chase Elliott took home Rookie of the Year honors and a 10th-place finish in the final standings in his first year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
After making a handful of Cup starts in 2015, Elliott stepped into the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet in 2016, replacing four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.
The 2014 XFINITY Series champion scored 10 top fives this season in NASCAR's premier series, which marked the most by a rookie since his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne recorded 13 in 2004 when he drove for Ray Evernham.
"I'm proud to have had the season we had," Elliott said, "a year full of ups and downs, but we learned some things and are ready to go next year."
During the regular season, Elliott came close to winning a couple times. Two instances came in both races at Michigan International Speedway, where circumstances on late-race restarts relegated him to runner-up finishes in both events after leading a combined 66 laps.
"A couple big mistakes at both Michigan races were devastating," Elliott said. "There are things you can’t do and expect to have success, so I need to clean that up."
The 13 top 10s Elliott captured in the first 26 races, which included a streak of six straight, helped put him in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He is just one of three rookies - Chris Buescher (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2006) - to make the Chase since its inception in 2004.
Elliott started the post-season with two top-three finishes in the opening round. The Round of 12 is how far Elliott would eventually go due to tough outings at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. He led 75 and 103 laps, respectively, at Chicagoland and Charlotte.
"To start the Chase, we had an opportunity at Chicago, an opportunity at Charlotte and Kansas, and that’s something you're frustrated about, that you weren’t able to get things done like you had hoped," Elliott said. "What’s encouraging and something that I certainly won’t forget is how well we ran at the start of the Chase. But then as the Chase went on, we understand we need to get better."
Throughout the season, Elliott battled four other drivers for Rookie of the Year. He ended the season with a 70-point advantage over second-place Ryan Blaney and 102 ahead of Buescher.
"It was a privilege to be part of that throughout the year and I appreciate the other competitors," Elliott said. "It was a lot of fun and means a lot to us to get that done. We wanted to achieve more and make it farther into the Chase. Rookie of the Year is special to me, but we want to grow from that and try to get better."
Elliott also won two poles this season and will be part of the The Clash at Daytona to start 2017.
Motor Racing Network continues our look at the 16 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in 2016 tomorrow with a look at the ninth-place driver, Kyle Larson.